The United States is calling on the Sri Lankan government to thoroughly investigate charges of war crimes in the final months of its long war with Tamil Tiger rebels. A State Department report issued Thursday listed what were termed credible allegations of abuses by both sides in the conflict.
The State Department says if the Sri Lankan government really is interested, as it says it is, in post-war reconciliation, it should investigate alleged abuses in the closing months of the conflict and bring to justice those responsible.
The comments came as the department released a report, mandated by Congress, cataloguing alleged war crimes in the bitter fighting on the northern tip of Sri Lanka early this year that led to the final government rout of separatist Tamil Tiger guerrillas.
The State Department said it could not verify all the reports from diplomats, non-governmental groups and media organizations but said they are credible.
Among other things, it cited accounts of the Tamil Tigers recruiting children as combatants and using civilians as human shields.
It also listed reports of government forces shelling nominal safe-haven areas for Tamil civilians, killing rebels trying to surrender, and allowing dismal humanitarian conditions to prevail in displaced-person camps.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said the United States has been urging Sri Lankan authorities to open up the northern region to international organizations, and to conduct a thorough investigation of the charges. "We call on them to develop the kind of mechanisms that can more thoroughly investigate these many allegations which are laid out in this report, and then ultimately - as appropriate - bring to justice those who are found guilty. The government of Sri Lanka has said that they are determined to establish a reconciliation process with the people of the north. But we believe strongly that a very important part of any reconciliation process is accountability," he said.
The U.S. report stressed that it did not reach legal conclusions as to whether the abuses cited constituted violations of international law.
It also said the United States recognizes a government's right to defend itself from attacks by terrorist groups, but that it expects both state and non-state actors to comply with international legal obligations.
The Tamil Tigers, long classified by the United States as a terrorist group, waged a 26-year war for an ethnic-Tamil state in the northern part of the mostly-Sinhalese country before its defeat and final surrender in May.
The United Nations says the conflict killed as many as 100,000 people and many thousands remain displaced from this year's fighting.
The private monitoring group Human Rights Watch said the State Department report should dispel any doubts that serious abuses were committed during the Sri Lankan conflict's final months.
But it said that given the Sri Lankan government's complete failure thus far to investigate possible war crimes, the only hope for justice would be an independent, international investigation.